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Manifestos, multiculturalism and the British millet system

Competing communitarian manifestos provide a dark glimpse into Britain’s future

There is a certain irony in the fact that, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pursues a ruthless campaign of centralisation and integration in the world’s largest Hindu nation, Britain is becoming more susceptible to sectarian political activism from within its Hindu minority.  

Though much of the recent attention around sectarian political campaigns has focused on the efforts of Muslim organisations, Britain’s growing Hindu community has begun to exercise similar influence, albeit on a smaller scale. Last Saturday, Ameet Jogia MBE, the Conservative Party’s candidate in Hendon, came under fire after he publicly endorsed “The Hindu Manifesto”, produced by the campaign organisation “Hindus For Democracy”. So what exactly is Jogia so proud to endorse?

For a start, “The Hindu Manifesto” calls for more money for Hindu temples, easier visas for Hindu priests, and more state-funded Hindu schools. It also demands a formalised system of “community consultation” when Governments legislate on issues that might be relevant to British Hindus — this is the British millet system at its most explicit.

Then it gets even more concerning. There are calls to relax visa rules for dependents and elderly parents of Hindus already in the UK, making it even easier to move for them to this country. Meanwhile individuals who criticise Hindu doctrine, or who commit “microaggressions” against Hindus, are to be designated for specific prosecution, despite the fact that anti-Hindu hate is already a criminal offence under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. 

Cracking down on criticisms of Hinduism, more government spending on Hindu institutions, and relaxing visa rules in order to make it easier for Hindus to come to the UK. When demands such as these emanate from organisations such as The Muslim Vote, they are roundly condemned by conservative commentators — and rightly so. Our democracy cannot function when religious minorities demand special attention, resources, and legal rights at the expense of the majority. 

And yet, all too often, Hindu sectarianism is given a free pass by those who purport to believe in homogeneity, integration, and a clear, uniform national interest. Blind eyes are turned to the emergence of sectarian organisations that stoke deliberate division in cities like Leicester, and legitimate geopolitical concerns about India are swept under the rug. Where Hindu voters gather in large numbers, expect to see Conservatives chasing after their support. 

Just ask Bob Blackman, the Harrow East MP who spends much of his time hobnobbing with Hindu nationalist politicians in an effort to appease the nearly 30 percent of his constituents who identify as Hindu. In 2019, he attended a UK4Modi Car Rally in London, where he urged British Hindus to support Modi’s BJP in the Indian general election held in spring of that year. In 2020, he was rewarded for his efforts with the designation of Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour. 

Of course, “Hindus For Democracy” is not the only group to have issued a set of communitarian demands this election. The Sikh Network released its “Sikh Manifesto” just days ago, while the Board of Deputies regularly releases a “Jewish Manifesto” — though this year’s edition is, as of yet, not unpublished. Much has already been written about The Muslim Vote’s efforts to influence the election by endorsing candidates who share their perspective on the ongoing conflict in Gaza. 

Like it or not, if Britain continues to become more ethnically and religiously diverse, sectarian political organisation will become an unavoidable feature of public life in this country. Minority groups will continue to jostle for influence, putting pressure on mainstream politicians in a competition for limited resources and attention. Expect MPs to adapt their policy positions accordingly, with foreign policy an area of particular susceptibility to this kind of sectarian lobbying. Against this backdrop, we can also expect to see more division and more inter-communal conflict, leading to violence in the worst cases, as residents of Leicester can attest. History teaches us that successful multicultural, multifaith democracies are the exception, not the norm — just ask the people of Lebanon, Bosnia, or Northern Ireland. 

Yet our politicians seem set on failing to learn the lessons of history. Already, pandering to one or more religious minority groups is effectively a precondition for victory in a worrying number of Parliamentary seats. Hindus make up more than 5 percent of the population in a full 37 constituencies across England and Wales, with Sikhs reaching that proportion in 24 constituencies and Jewish voters making up those numbers in just 7 seats. Muslims, meanwhile, make up more than 5 percent of the population in a whopping 186 constituencies. These figures are growing quickly as the country strains under historically unprecedented levels of immigration. 

there is more to integration than paying your taxes and tolerating your neighbours

Rather than shunning explicitly sectarian appeal in favour of a unifying national message, or using these emergent realities as a platform for conversations about the scale and pace of demographic change, it seems that many Conservatives would rather lower themselves to sectarian point-scoring. In Hindus, many Conservatives see a group that superficially shares the values that they purport to care about — stereotypically, the British Hindu is businesslike, family-oriented, and law-abiding. Unfortunately, the efforts of groups like “Hindus For Democracy” demonstrate clearly that there is more to integration than paying your taxes and tolerating your neighbours. 

With Labour traditionally reliant on the support of Muslim communities and Conservatives now courting Hindu support, British foreign policy on issues such as the dispute over sovereignty in Kashmir is likely to be sclerotic in the decades to come. Continue along our current trajectory, and we risk becoming a country in which the Conservatives are the party of Israel and India, while Labour is the party of Pakistan and Palestine. 

Fail to take action now, and we could be stuck with this problem forever

This is not a healthy basis for self-interested foreign policy, nor will it enable us to deal with the realities of Britain’s emergent millet system. If both major parties are engaged in sectarian campaigning for short-term political gain, the task of tackling the problem at its root becomes all the more difficult. Right-minded conservatives should heed the lessons of Narendra Modi, who understands so clearly the importance of homogeneity and centralisation in the running of a nation state. Fail to take action now, and we could be stuck with this problem forever.

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